Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Missing mother and daughter's help sign spotted by rescue helicopter

A help sign made by missing trampers Rachel Lloyd and her mother Carolyn Lloyd. Photo / Amalgamated Helicopters
A help sign made by missing trampers Rachel Lloyd and her mother Carolyn Lloyd. Photo / Amalgamated Helicopters

The family of an American mother and daughter rescued after they spent four near-freezing nights in the New Zealand bush have thanked those involved in bringing them to safety.

Carolyn Lloyd carried her starving and exhausted daughter Rachel, 22, on her back as the pair tried to escape the Tararua Forest where they got lost during a hike on Tuesday.

The women strayed from the path on what was supposed to be a one-day hike.

Mrs Lloyd's brother John Schumacher contacted the Herald from his home in the US with a message for the search and rescue team.

"My entire family wishes to express our tear-filled gratitude to all the amazing police staff, helicopter pilots, search team members, dog guides, volunteers and news teams who kept us informed and everyone else involved who worked so quickly and effectively to find - and save - my sister and niece," he said.

"What a testament the wonderful citizens of New Zealand are to the rest of the world, of how people can work together to accomplish such noble deeds. Thank God, and thank you all."

The pair were spotted yesterday by Amalgamated Helicopters director and chief pilot Jason Diedrichs after an extensive search of the area surrounding the Kapakapanui Track.

Searching for the women, they saw the word "help" spelled out on a river bed with rocks, punga fronds and sticks. The women, who had made another sign in a bush clearing, were nearby waving their arms.

"They were certainly keen to make their presence known. They were a little bit worse for wear, they'd been in there for four nights out in the open with very little food so they were definitely feeling the effects of that."

Diedrichs managed to land the helicopter nearby and flew the grateful women out of the bush to waiting paramedics.

"They were physically and mentally very tired so it's fair to say they were pretty pleased to see us."

The Lloyds, dehydrated, starving and exhausted, were airlifted to hospital for precautionary checks.

Speaking from the family's home in Charlotte, North Carolina, Carolyn's husband Barry Lloyd said that finding out his wife and daughter were alive was "the greatest moment of my life".

He had spoken to them on the phone and was able to relay some of their ordeal.

"They went all the way up to the summit on that trail and on their way back they thought they were following it but [my wife] told me the orange markers turned to blue," he said.

"They thought that maybe they just changed to blue when you went down. But then they ended - there were no markers - and it got dark."

The pair huddled together at the base of a tree perched precariously on a steep bank or cliff, he said.

Carolyn Lloyd carried her starving and exhausted daughter on her back as the pair tried to escape the relentless New Zealand bush. Photo / Supplied
Carolyn Lloyd carried her starving and exhausted daughter on her back as the pair tried to escape the relentless New Zealand bush. Photo / Supplied

"My wife was frightened to death. She stayed awake all night and held my daughter to keep her warm. The next day when the sun came up they got up and tried to find their way out but it just kept getting worse."

The pair came across a waterfall and stream and decided to follow it in the hopes of linking up with the path. The terrain was extremely steep, slippery and treacherous so they had to take it very slow.

"My daughter was getting weaker - she doesn't have a lot of extra meat on her bones - and she couldn't walk so my wife told me she was carrying her on her back, trying to walk back up the mountains.

"She had a backpack with her so she was carrying that on her front and my daughter on her back."

By the third day it became clear that Rachel could not walk any further so her mother constructed a makeshift-camp, creating a bed out of fern fronds.

"My daughter usually eats, like, 10 times a day. She's one of these people who can eat every two hours and just burn it off.

"But she didn't have any fuel in her body so she couldn't go any further."

Carolyn also constructed a "help" sign should a helicopter pass overhead, then huddled close to her daughter for a fourth night.

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Barry said his wife was "amazing" for her heroic efforts and said he felt "blessed" that they had been found.

"I don't think I could have made it through another night not knowing," he said.

His sons had flown from Chicago to be with him and they had planned to travel to New Zealand within the next 24 hours if they had not been found.

"I had just picked up a pizza and [a New Zealand police officer] called and told me that they were were alive and on their way to the hospital. It was the greatest moment of my life," he said.

New Zealand's emergency services had been "wonderful" and had kept him informed every step of the way with a phonecall every two hours or so.

MetService meteorologist Emma Blades said overnight lows hovered around the 5C mark for the four nights the women were in the bush.

But strong winds which came through the area on Friday would have made the conditions seem even colder.

Sergeant Anthony Harmer yesterday praised the two women for how they had handled their situation.

"They've been caught out unawares in their circumstances through no fault of their own. It's a New Zealand environment as opposed to other environments they've been to.

"They've done all the right things - they've stayed together, they've conserved their heat, they've conserved their resources so they gave themselves the best chance possible."

He said the search operation had been "pretty much textbook" and the women had been found in an area that searchers had anticipated they might have ended up.

Harmer urged people to check the website adventuresmart.org.nz before heading into the wilderness.

- Herald on Sunday

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